Notes Tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

The Genius of Bob Dylan’s Experiential ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ Video Revisited

September 17th, 2018

Rapper Danny Brown on the landing channel of Vania Heymann’s 2013 video for Bob Dylan’s 1965 masterpiece, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, immediately co-opting the past and present with a likeness to Dylan’s wiley-haired ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ peak prowess.

ICYMI in 1965, Bob Dylan, adding to his cache of nobel-rock laurels, was a defining figure in the evolution of the music video, arguably creating the lyric hybrid format with Bringing it All Back Home’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” flipping lyric cue cards in a Manhattan alley.

Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg in the official video for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’; Photo: BobDylanVEVO

Even then he was blowing up the medium with multi-layered meta tricks, changing up the lyrics on the fly, landmark beat poet Allen Ginsberg making a cameo as a rabbi in the periphery.

Add a pair of Wayfarers to his head at 1:52 when Dylan threads the fourth verse of the song’s anti-establishment “look out kid” theme, paired in the video with a cue card reading “dig yourself,” and it would’ve been a marketing team’s wet dream.

Dylan’s (and his collaborators’) genius are myriad, and one of the greatest frames around this is his cognizance and defiance of it all. He’s tongue-in-cheek on tongue-in-cheek on tongue-in-cheek. He cemented this untouchable blend of iconoclasm and literati brand in this same year when he berated Time journalist Horace Judson for essentially being fake news, proceeding to sacrifice the guy for perpetuating a systematic cultural ignorance to ideas.

Dylan speaks to ‘Time’ Journalist, Horace Judson, in D.A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’; Photo: Docurama/YouTube

“I got nothing to say about these things I write. I just write ’em. I don’t need to say anything about ’em. I don’t write ’em for any reason. There’s no great message. If you want to tell other people that, go ahead and tell em,” Dylan wryly says to Judson, immortalized in D.A. Pennebaker’s rockumentary, Don’t Look Back.

All of this is important because in the half of a century of a career since, there have been misteps and sidesteps and WTF-steps over the years as all man, artist and brand — the 76-year-old’s latest venture: ‘Heaven’s Door’ whiskey — but re: Dylan’s in-on-it crowning achievement, with one move, he can thread the whole messy quilt together.

Now five years old, Isreali viral director prodigy Vania Heymann’s 2013 treatment of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited masterpiece, “Like a Rolling Stone,” is a simultaneous marketing masterpiece of a wink to Dylan’s legacy and a nod to that systematic no-idea media cultural ignorace incubated in 1965 that if anything has only become more terrifyingly pervasive with every consecutive tweet from Donald Trump.

An actress in the ShopTV segment of Heymann’s interactive video for ‘Like a Rolling Stone’; Photo: eko

At first watch, one might take it as a jump-the-shark moment that cashes in on the gimmickery of interactive videos, set as a 16-channel-flipping lip-sync reel with everything from BBC news to ESPN’s SportsCenter to ShopTV correspondents, anchors and actors mouthing the infamous lyrics of the not-fit-for-radio six-minute plus edit of the song.

Or, if you want to cut deeper, perhaps there are some out there that feel like that infamous dude who just couldn’t accept that folk was dead and screamed “Judas” at an electric guitar-wielding Dylan.

Though much like the song itself, rock’s greatest patchwork about the loss of innocence both internal and external, morphing from punk to R&B, held together by Dylan’s perfectly imperfect nasally howl, the layers start to fray in this destined way as you flip-away into a punchline of a comatose tv-viewer with channels, channels everywhere, but not a show to watch.

Seamlessly edited by the digital media company Interlude, “Like a Rolling Stone”s characters from ‘Miss Lonely’ to the ‘Jugglers and the Clowns’ to the chrome horse-riding diplomat with a siamese cat take a temporary sensory backseat to The Price is Right, the guys from Pawn Stars, a History Channel segment, until you get hooked in by the chorus and you find yourself singing along to a woman trying to sell you a dustbuster and a magic brush asking you how it feels “to be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown.”

Rick Harrison and Austin Russel of ‘Pawn Stars’; Photo eko

The History Channel bit reveals itself as an expose on The Great Depression, the Pawn Stars are selling an acoustic guitar (a brilliant nod to Dylan going electric) Drew Carey is hawking prizes through a big sparkly wheel on The Price is Right. There’s a kids show, reality TV, a chef whipping up “Childhood Flavors,” rapper Danny Brown eating street food for six-minutes; all their own little microcosms of the lies and feels and deals narrative to “Like a Rolling Stone.”

To be stocked with all these brands that are both complicit and subversively derided with a 50+ year old song, that is able to interactively entrap the viewer into this soul-sucking reflection of himself and the degenerative effects the media has on society sometimes, Heymann and Dylan set the bar here.

The way of experiential videos, at least in the music arena, even when considering Arcade Fire’s multiple brilliant contributions i.e. placing viewers in nostalgia trips through satellite imagery of their own neighborhoods in promotion of their album, The Suburbs, or Beck’s ambitious 360-degree video for his take on David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’, both of which were created by director Chris Milk, there’s nothing that compares.

And if you want to quantify that in a feeling, well, this video added another person to that very short list capable of answering that.

Watch Heymann’s full video at

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Lyricapsule: The ‘No Nukes’ Concert; September 19, 1979

September 19th, 2014


One of those rare moments when people actually understand the power that they have over political action, a few hundred thousand people converged upon Madison Square Garden on this day in 1979, and the next four days, to rally ’round the notion that the future of the world’s existence would be better off without nuclear energy. Billed under the Musicians United for Safe Energy collective as “No Nukes: The Muse Concerts For a Non-Nuclear Future,” key organizer Jackson Browne would later remark on an interview for the film version, “I’m a citizen of the free world. That’s what I am. And I have a right to know why my life is being endangered by someone’s profit motive.”

Soundtracking the event were a plethora of folk and rock heavyweights, but one of the night’s most tangible moment came when James TaylorCarly SimonJohn Hall and Graham Nash harmonized on a cover of one of Dylan‘s most threateningly perfect bright acoustic gems, “The Times They Are-a-Changin’,” cut to a mere 1:45 of its original length, yet calculated to burst right on its new opening verse:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

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Newport Folk Festival 2013: Is Folk Dead?

September 12th, 2013

Father John Misty; Photo: Gavin Paul

As reported on Saturday, the second day of this year’s edition of the iconic Newport Folk Festival, former Fleet Fox-er, J. Tillman, backed by his new crew Father John Misty, was the first among 50 plus artists throughout the weekend to open up a discourse on what the hell “folk” means these days, both to the legacy of the festival and to the state of culture and music in general, chastising the “fedoras” and “Prius” set for not adhering to the “God damn responsibility to say something with [their] damn songs,” pausing in the last verse of his gospel-stomp, biblical-laced “Fun Times in Babylon” to basically hammer home the point that he’s on a mission to go into the belly of the beast, guns a-blazing, joys a-raping before the whole show goes to shit: [LISTEN]

"Fun Times in Babylon"

While at the start of the song, he changed its opening lyric from “fun times in Babylon/that’s what I’m counting on,” to “It’s what folk music is based on.”

He said a lot of brash things. Sometimes perplexing. Sometimes perfect. Sometimes contradictory. Sometimes self-deprecating. Consistently hilarious:

  • On apologies: “It’s been a little preachy, and antagonistic. But I promise it’s all just smooches and cinnamon buns from here on out.”
  • On anger: “People used to get praised by the government for their folk songs.”
  • On the state of music: “Human nationalistic imperialism.”
  • On the rest of his set: “Let the satanic Norwegian death metal commence!”
  • On his own music: “But I’m not a folk artist. I just got invited here because I’m white, I have a beard and there’s some acoustic guitar on my album.”
  • On crowd demographics: “So is this a camping thing? Or do you all just go back to your yachts and call it a night?”

Tillman said it himself – he’s not the arbiter of folk. Nor are the festival organizers anymore, really. When asked by NPR what we could expect from Sunday kitchen-sink genre headliner Beck, producer Jay Sweet unabashedly responded he had no idea, “I just buy the groceries. The artist’s make the meal. I just sit back and hope that it tastes good.”

And if Tillman was aiming at anyone in particular for selling out, it was most definitely The Lumineers, who played Sunday as well – clad in fedoras, no Prius’ in sight, though – and not Sweet or the legacy of the festival. Although the NFF did go for-profit for a number of years before returning to its 501©(3) roots in 2011. It’s clear the festival is simply providing a stage for whatever pulse is left in folk to beat. That objective responsibility goes back to the booing of Dylan going electric in 1965.

As one of the poster children of relevant indie-rock, though, Tillman stood on holy ground where Joan Baez made her debut, where Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie verses are above the law and stay protected by the fortress that is Fort Adams, and more or less asked if folk is dead, let alone still capable of beating a pulse, backing the premonition with a closing new tune called “Bored in the USA,” winking, “I think it’s about something,” before howling the ultimate BOSS-ian fist for the millennial, full of an acerbic dark wit, asking “President Jesus” to save him: [LISTEN]


Of course in a festival setting in 2013, it’s kind of hard to keep that conversation going. But the beauty of the NFF, is that it’s capped at 10,000 people/day, there are only four stages, and community is king. Even surrounded by yachts and sailboats and the mansions of Newport, people with real deal attention spans do make the majority, and do pay most of it to what an artist has to say. And as society and technology blur the conventions of whatever folk means to people, and how it can be delivered, the ways of searching for that pulse and conversation were myriad.

On Friday, as the rain pummeled the Narragansett Bay, weepy string cathartic narratives dominated the afternoon, from The Mountain Goats‘ tales of “divorced couples” and “battle royals” to Phosphorescent‘s “love me foolishly” sing-alongs, Amanda Palmer‘s twisted carnival gender-role reversal chanties, John McCauley‘s reinvention of broken-hearted Duke Ellington standard “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” wailing a pining punk-country sentiment that never gets old: [LISTEN]

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

While Old Crow Medicine Show put faux-hick drawl on every piece of banter they could during their headlining, bluegrass-burning set until people couldn’t take it anymore – “We got banjoes and fiddles just like they did 40 years ago. We got songs just like they did 140 years ago.” – but recovered with a decent cover of Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” just as the sun popped out and turned the sky the most purple shade of aura East of any mountain majesty: [LISTEN]

Woody rightfully showed up again, most notably in Ramblin‘ Jack Elliott‘s weekend defining set – aside from Tillman’s eternal question – the 81-years-young NFF veteran tumbling forth an anthology of stories and wanderlust anecdotes from sailing to one of the most bitter-sweet tales of a dog he taught to drive a car, lacing in the infamous fascist screed “Talking Sailor,” to tie in a metaphor about his penchant for sailing backwards through life: [LISTEN]

"Talkin' Sailor"

The only other performance that came close to Elliott’s was Beck’s, in which Elliott reprised his stage presence on the heels of a sentiment from Beck that a teenage version of the veritable “Loser” used to go see Elliott back in the day, while Elliott came out, and knelt down for some odd reason – hopefully this was a knee or back issue and not some honor gesture – to look up to Beck and duet a cover of Jimmie Rodgers‘ “Waiting for a Train,” while Andrew Bird and members of Black Prairie supported on strings, as they all rallied around the down-and-out tale: [LISTEN]

"Waiting on a Train" lyrics

If we really are to define folk by Tillman’s suggestion that an artist simply must have something to say, though, there wasn’t a false act at all, really. Even funk powerhouse Trombone Shorty, as light as his outfit is on lyrics, wore a sense of what it means to be an American on their sleeves with a riff hurricane rendition of The Guess Who‘s “American Woman,” Troy Andrews freewheeling its anti-war, anti-poverty fists with brass instead of verse.

Likewise, Jim James spiritual new solo record, Regions of Light and Sound of God, played in full as James has been doing all year, touched upon what it means to be a young American with a relationship with the higher-ups, The Lone Bellow swelled a trinity of harmonies over a cover of John Prine‘s ”Angel From Montgomery” that threw the blue collar pursuit into its oppressive spotlight once more, Frank Turner led the UK pursuit with a cockney punk country converse that “there is no God,” Justin Townes Earl honored Hank Williams decision to put the 12-bar blues into country with a lament on the evils roughing it as an artist in modern day Brooklyn and The Avett Brothers made sure to split their weepy-string meditations on “I and Love and You” with a “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” reminding everyone of their existential freedoms: [LISTEN]

And possibly the most shocking moment came when The Lumineers took to a cover of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which they’ve done several times before, but to hear lead singer Wesley Shultz tell the tale of obsessing over it as a kid in this setting, with the echoes of Tillman’s “Prius” and “fedoras” shots still ringing from earlier that afternoon, validated the simple lovelorn mega-banjo anthem “Ho Hey” that followed it. Not that “Ho Hey” will become part of the American songbook, nor will it ever eschew the laws that bind us, or ever, ever come close to the genius that is “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but for some twenty-something looking for the upside in heartache, there’s a revealing of the web that binds all genres in the vision of Shultz learning to express himself from the get go with Dylan.

Or it could be just a bit of crafty image molding to sell more Prius and fedoras. It’s your job to cut through the fat.

But there was a moment back in the closing moments of Beck’s set that equally put the future of folk into perspective, after a couple tunes from his “Song Reader” project and wound around an improvisational rap about a fictional yacht off in the distance with “16 Greek columns on it,” “900 flatscreen TVs” and the proverbial “banjo” in the middle of it all waiting to take him away in which he foretold a reminder of what kind of pedestal the NFF of the 50s is placed upon today, and how society might do the same to the 2010s version in the 2050s, proceeding to turn his digital drum machine’s beat to “11″ and narrating a tale of “Where it’s At:” [LISTEN]

"Where It's At"

Is folk dead? Not if you know how to listen to the reinvention of it.

Photo: Gavin Paul

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